I’ve now read all the 2009 YA Edgar nominees, in case you’ve been hanging around the blog long enough to remember when I started this exercise. The point, for me anyway, was to see what’s happening in YA mystery today—what does it take to make the YA Edgar shortlist in 2009? I wanted to know.
And I was kind of… well, disappointed, if you want to know the truth. Don’t get me wrong: all of these books are worth reading—some should even be required reading, I think. But out of all of these, only one was a mystery. In my opinion.
Two of the nominees’ sole crime was a case of peer pressure/bullying-gone-wild (Getting the Girl and The Big Splash—though extra points for this one’s originality), one was a chase for a girl who was not really missing, so no real crime there either (Paper Towns), however nice the writing. One was a literary masterpiece (Bog Child), but not a book where the protagonist is solving a mystery—he’s just surviving his environment. There was no chase, no detective work. The only book that made the cut, or my cut anyway, was Torn to Pieces. And it didn’t even win—but let’s forget that for the moment.
I’ve spent a lot of time arguing the point that every book is a mystery, that all books have unanswered questions, so mysteries in them.
But I was wrong.
There is a distinct difference between the definition of a mystery in general, and a book that is labeled a mystery. I won’t go into label/genre definitions, because we could be here all day (and nobody wants that). I’ll put it this way: if these books weren’t written for teens, they wouldn’t be filed under mystery (with Torn to Pieces as the exception). Simple as that. They don’t explore human nature through crime, they don’t have the mystery or crime as a central plot element, and would be filed under general fiction if you took out the YA component.
So what’s the big whoop, you say. They’re good books, you said so yourself.
But these are Edgar nominees! These are supposed to be the year's best in mystery YA—what gives? Where are the YA mysteries?
Why, if mystery and suspense is one of the bestselling categories in fiction written for adults, is the genre so sadly represented in YA? Plenty of mystery and crime on TV. Why not in YA fiction? Are we afraid the kids might get squeamish? Or is it really the parents and librarians we worry about? Plenty of librarians who love mystery, I meet them all the time at fan conferences. So why so few mysteries in YA?
I want to know. Because I love mysteries. Mysteries explore human nature in an ultimate show-don’t-tell fashion. The best literary novels I’ve read are filed under mystery. The genre has merit, dangit. And I’m convinced that this category is neglected in YA. Just look at the Edgars this year, if you don’t believe me.
So what to do, Fleur? Well, I’m changing my blog description: I’m no longer finding the mystery in YA, I’m just looking for mystery books in YA. And every time I find one, a bonafide, true mystery with a crime in it that someone is solving YA-style, I’ll list it here.
I’m a little ticked off by how lousy mystery is represented in YA, if you haven’t figured it out yet. And I found my soapbox again. Lucky me.